Tips for Substitute Teachers
Anyone who has ever substitute taught knows that it can be
rewarding, yet hard, work. Substitute teaching is tougher
than student teaching in many aspects. At least when student
teaching you are able to spend time with the students and
develop a rapport with them. A substitute is in-and-out.
Usually it's a one-day shot. Often they don't know you, and
you don't know them. The students are used to their
classroom teacher, and then they get this "stranger" for one
day. All that disruption can become more than they want to
And, if that isn't tough enough--If the classroom teacher is
unhappy with what they find when they return, they can (and
will) request that the substitute teacher NEVER sets foot in
their room again. The flip side is, if they are happy with what
they find when they return, they will personally request you
for the substitute the next time they have to be absent.
1. Always, ALWAYS, follow the classroom teacher's lesson
plans (or whatever substitute instructions they have left.)
The top complaint heard from teachers, about
substitutes, is that they do not follow the lesson plans.
2. Take time before school to review material that is
unfamiliar. If that still does not help, try to find another
teacher who will explain it to you. (The second most
often complaint heard from teachers, about substitutes,
is that they did not know anything about the subject, and
confused the students. Make every attempt to
understand the lessons.)
3. Make a discipline plan. Get input from classroom teachers
and principals before the final draft is made. Then when
subbing, show it to the principal of the school beforehand
and ask him to back it. Then follow through with it in the
classroom. (Another common complaint about substitutes
is lack of classroom control.) [You may want to have two
"rule" posters; one for elementary and another for middle
and high school. (suggestion: have a maximum of five
rules.) Post the rules at the front of classroom before the
students arrive. Often students will see the rule poster as
they enter the room, and ask about it. At the start of
class explain each rule, and tell the consequences of
breaking the rules. Some things that elementary students
really dislike are missing recesses or staying after school.
Some may object by saying that's not the way their
teacher does things. A standard reply is "I know it is a
challenge to have a new person walk in. Nevertheless I
am not your regular teacher, and these are the rules I
bring with me every time I substitute. The rules posted
are the rules for as long as I am your substitute, and I'm
sure we will have a pleasant day if we all work together."
At the elementary level, bring work for students to do, in
case you need to keep someone after school. At the high
school level, send them to the office if necessary.
4. Bring some fun extra things the students can do when,
and only when, their work is done. At the elementary
level, bring "fun sheets" for the students. Fun sheets can
be pictures to color, dot-to-dots, word searches, mazes,
or something else along that line. At the upper levels,
bring word puzzles and magazines.
5. Leave a note for the teacher at the end of the day. Let
the classroom teacher know how the day went. Did the
students struggle with a lesson? If so, let the teacher
know. Did the students have fun with an activity? Again,
let the teacher know. Remember to include the positives
of the day as well as the negatives.
6. Make sure the room is in order before leaving. Another
common complaint is that the teacher can never find
books and papers when they return. Make an effort to
stack handed-in assignments in a neat and organized
manner where the teacher can easily find them. Put all
books away where they were at the start of the day. Be
sure the room in general looks orderly.
Doing those things can make substitute teaching
easier, and more enjoyable!
Other TIPS from actual substitute teachers:
I do a lot of subbing in Middle School. Since I see about
130-150 students per day, I need to get their attention
right away. After going over my rules and what I expect
from them, I do a pop candy quiz. Since not all classes are
in the same spot, this helps me find out where they are
and gives me a feel for the class. It takes less than 5
minutes. I usually ask them questions from the lesson
plan; i.e.: if they are required to read chapter 14, the
questions will be about the last chapter; or if I have never
read the book about what has happened to get us to this
point. I usually limit it to about 5-7 questions. As a reward
I will "Toss" out a tootsie roll, or smartie. I found these to
be cheap and plentiful. Less than $5.00 per week, this
offers me much more in classroom management and
I have found a good business card made on Print Artist is
good for getting my name in and around schools. I leave
one with the note I leave for the teacher if I want to work
in their classroom again. I also leave one at the office if I
want to come back to that school. I am now turning down
more jobs then I take. The card has a picture of a sub
sandwich on it with the saying "Have Sub Will Travel" and
my name and phone number.
You are not doing anyone any favors if you allow students
to misbehave and fail to report this to their teacher. I
handle minor misdeeds myself: a talk in the hall with a
student can be helpful. But when a student is disruptive
and has to be put out in the hall, etc., I leave that info for
the teacher. In the district where I sub, most teachers
encourage us to leave names of uncooperative students
and details of their misbehavior. This usually results in the
student's receiving one or two detentions. Students who
have had me know I leave names, and as a result, I am
able to maintain good discipline in the classroom.
Students walk all over those few subs who never leave
names because they know they can get away with it. I
leave positive notes, too, but I let teachers know what
really went on in their absence. I believe that is part of my
My tip is referring to the students by their last name!
Timmy Jones is Mr. Jones. Linda Smith is Miss Smith. This
adds a little touch of formality, and adds to your control of
the classroom. (I attended law school, and this is how the
professors called on us. It scared the heck out of us!)
The teachers I sub for do a great job for me. I believe it all
starts with the administration. So, do some shopping for
school districts. If you have a constant problem, check
with other subs and then take that problem back to the
school. After all, they are your kids, too.
I always bring along a small selection of age and
curriculum-appropriate children's literature. Since I have
certain favorites that I keep in a "bag of tricks", on the
cover page attach a stick-um to jot down which classes
I've read the book to, and sometimes add comments as to
how it was received by a particular class.
To stop the sometimes-endless requests for handwritten
passes to the bathroom, get a child's wooden block or
other handy-but-large-enough-to-be-noticed object from
home and mark it in permanent ink with your name and
the words "BATHROOM PASS". Bring this with you
whenever you go to sub.
Have a sign in/sign out sheet ready (with a pen or pencil
nearby) and have students print their name, the time they
left, and (when they come back) the time they return.
Hand this in to the "regular" teacher along with any other
notes you may have about the classes at the end of the
day. I've found this works well in middle schools--it's
amazing how the "need to go" diminishes when they find
out I intend to give the "regular" teacher the sign-out
I have a suggestion for getting the attention of "chatty"
students. I tell them first thing in the morning the thing I
am most inflexible about is students' talking/chatting while
I am talking. I tell them that if they talk or chat while I am
talking, I will time them on my watch and keep track of
how long it takes them to be quiet. I keep a running total
on the blackboard of how many seconds/minutes it takes
them to quiet down and that is what I deduct from P.E.,
recess or free time. Students are told that I will erase time
from their "penalty minutes" if they come into the
classroom and are quiet or can stay quiet during work
time. It really works, and it helps the students help one
another to be quiet since one person talking/chatting can
make everyone lose minutes!
I always try to get a class list the day before I sub. It helps
"Real" teachers love it when you let them know how a class
went. Why not leave a form in your school indicating what
it is that you would like to know. They can pass it on to
administrators and it may become policy for the school. I
think you are "real teachers" and I appreciate your work!
I have found a little game with children that works well to
improve their behavior throughout the day. This really
works well with K-2. I draw a line on the board. On one
side I tell the children that if they are not being
cooperative they will have to write their name on the left
side of the board, but if I catch them doing good behavior
they will get to put their name on the right side of the
board (I label both sides.) I try to find something positive
about each child quickly so that I can get all names on the
right side of the board. That way if they do a negative
behavior, they only have to erase their name from the
right side of the board and they get another chance to be
put back on the right side before making it to the negative
side. I let the children write their own names on the
boards. This especially helps the fidgeters!
Another type of quiet game while doing their work is to
draw a line on the board and play boys against the girls. If
a boy talks, the girls get a point and if a girl talks, the
boys get the point. This works with all age groups. I have
an incentive for the end of the day. Usually a sucker or
etc. I try to be very non-competitive with this game so I
watch and listen carefully so that it will end up even.
I find that elementary students (especially the younger
ones) love receiving stickers for completed work. Scratch-
n-sniff stickers are the biggest hits. Let the students know
you have the stickers in the beginning of the class - this
gives them something to strive for.
I put the number five on the board and tell the students
that they are starting with five minutes of game (or free
time). If they follow the classroom rules, they will earn
more minutes, but if they break the rules then they lose
minutes. This is a good time to remind the students of the
classroom rules. For particularly rowdy groups, I give
them whatever free minutes they earned right before
lunch. Even if it's 2 minutes, they learn that you really will
give them game time and they usually will try a lot harder
in the afternoon to earn minutes. This technique saves
your voice. It's amazing how quiet the room gets when
you erase minutes. I always get asked by the students "If
we earn 120 minutes of free game time, will we get it?" I
tell them that I've never had anyone get that high and I
dare them to try.
I've found a form of discipline that works well with kids
from about 3rd grade & up: Have the student write a
letter to the regular teacher describing his/her
I have found a lifesaver for when I sub in grades 3-6! I
have a box full of fun brainteasers and challenges
(worksheets) that are glued and contact papered on one
half of a file folder. When a student is finished with his/her
work, he/she shows me and I allow them to pick a
"Challenge" and an overhead marker to write with. When
they are done with it, they wet a Kleenex, wipe it off and
pick a new one! They work hard to stay quiet and finish
their work in order to pick a challenge to work on. They
love the challenges. I find the challenges in jumbo puzzle
books or from brainteaser books (cheap!). My classes
have often told me how much they love them and ask me
if I'll leave them there!
Get there early and read through the plans...Oh and a
Tupperware container full of skittles doesn't hurt either
...use them as a reward or as a bribe in the really tough
I found using index cards to be helpful in remembering
students' names. I make them up before class, writing
each student's name on the card, or to make it fun for the
kids, I let them make their own designs on the card and
write their names. Then, I tape it to the front of their
desk, so I do not have to foolishly keep referring to the
seating plan. At the end of the day I collect the cards,
label the class, that way I have them all ready for the next
time I sub that particular class. It is really helpful for me.
If you give a student a pass to the bathroom, make sure
you write down his/her name, just in case he/she decides
not to return to class. You will have the last laugh when
the "real" teacher comes back the next day and confronts
the student with the nice little note you left in his/her
mailbox, after the student swears he/she was in class
Write the lesson plans on the board before class starts.
Avoid the name changing game. Have someone help you
take attendance while other students are working. Double
check by counting the number of people and match it
against the number on the list.
Offer students free time at the end of the hour (5 or 10
minutes) for good work and behavior during the hour.
Create a relaxed atmosphere, start a conversation with
several students that interests them and they'll be more
apt to respect and cooperate with you. Bribe them any
way you can.
Instead of yelling to get their attention, try whispering or at
least speaking quietly and calmly. At times this simply
doesn't work. But sometimes they're simply stunned into
Explain in full detail what is going to happen during the
class and that there may be a possibility of a few minutes
at the end to talk quietly. They all want to know what the
plan is--give it to them
Leave comments and notes PLEASE! I always request
comments (how did the lesson go? did the students
understand? did anyone cause a problem? any concerns?)
but I rarely get any.
Stick to the same schools when possible. This will give you
the opportunity to familiarize yourself with teachers,
students, and procedures in particular schools. As a
teacher, I try to request particular subs that have been
effective in the past.
Always wear your "grim teacher" look in the beginning until
the kids know you are for real.
Get to school early enough to look over the lesson plans
and get organized. (How true! How true!)
Make sure you are loaded with "busy" work for the kids who
always seem to finish their assignments before everyone
If you say you are going to give a certain punishment, do it!
The kids will know you mean business.
Grades 1-3. Put a paper shape (such as an apple) on each
row or each set of tables. When all students in each group
are working, and being quiet, put a "seed" (with a pen) on
the apple. When there are 5 "seeds", one person in the
group puts it on the wall. That group gets a new apple.
The students usually work hard for this. At the end of the
day, the group with the most apples wins the prize such
as candy, gum, bookmarks, and extra computer time. If
you return to the class several times, vary the shape and
vary the rewards. I make new shapes for holidays,
seasons, geometric, etc. IT WORKS because the students
are monitoring themselves to a certain extent.
Leave a note for the teacher detailing how lessons went,
students requiring extra help, and anything positive about
the class, lesson plans, resources, and students. Avoid
negativity no matter how disorganized, messy, and unruly
the students and/or the classroom---REAL Teachers talk to
other teachers, principals, etc. You want to be seen as an
asset not a pain in the asset.
Tell us what you accomplished from our lesson plans.
Be sure the room is as neat as when you got there.
Tell us what we can do to make your substitute experience
a better one.
Leave us an overall evaluation of the students' behavior.
(Excellent, Average, Animals)
How to Substitute Teach
How to have a pleasant, productive day and be asked to
1. Buy or make a daily calendar to keep track of your
2. Decorate and laminate a regular folder in which to store
your calendar and timesheet.
3. Design and print business cards and letterhead to leave
in each classroom.
4. Create a substitute teacher "grab bag" full of supplies,
such as markers, chalk, a whistle, scissors, videos,
transparencies, tissues, and more.
5. Organize several emergency lesson plans and activities
for various grade levels.
6. Prepare directions to schools ahead of time, so that you
can leave promptly in the morning when you're called.
7. When you arrive at the school, check the teacher's
mailbox for the attendance folder and announcements.
8. Follow any instructions from the classroom teacher as
closely as possible.
9. Announce your discipline plan to the students first thing
in the morning.
10. Keep a list of any helpful or disruptive students, as
well as any changes you made throughout the day.
11. Write a detailed note to the teacher at the end of the
day, using your customized letterhead and leaving a
12. Clean up the room thoroughly, straightening desks
and generally leaving the room better than you found it.
13. Say goodbye to the secretary and, if you enjoyed your
day, tell her so and that you would like to return soon.
1. Make friends with the teacher next door, if at all possible.
2. The teacher's lounge can be a great place to make
contacts; socialize and eat your lunch with the staff.
3. Set your behavior expectations early in the day and stick
to them, or the kids will, most likely, take advantage of
Substitute Teacher Resources
Use these resources to inform and to gather information from
NOTE: We recommend you have Adobe Acrobat Reader 5 to
view and print these PDFs.
It is free to download. Click here for more help with
Substitute Teacher Kits
These kits provide standalone units and individual lessons for
use by both teachers and substitutes alike.
The Five Senses – Kindergarten
A Visit to the Zoo – Grades 1-2
An Ocean Adventure – Grades 3-4
A Day in Space – Grades 5-6
Poetry Jam! – Grades 7-8
Seeing the World – Grades 7-8
What's in the News? – Grades 7-8
Substitute Teacher Feedback
Try this blank comment form for gathering a substitute
teacher's feedback on your classroom.
Substitute Teacher Information
Filling in these sheets will provide your substitutes with the
necessary information to run an efficient classroom in your
Substitute Teacher's Quick Reference
This form is a quick reference of daily subject and lesson plan
information for substitute teachers.
Substitute Teacher's Survival Kit
Basic classroom information and directions for substitute
Simple CL Structures
Timed Pair Share
1. Teacher gives a question, states amount of
time each will have to share.
2. T provides Think Time.
3. In pairs, A shares; B listens only.
4. B responds, "Thanks for sharing" or "One
thing I learned listening to you was…"
5. Pairs switch roles: B shares; A listens.
6. A responds.
1. Teacher gives a question.
2. T provides Think Time.
3. In pairs, A/B discuss.
4. A/B work for consensus.
5. Each partner then writes an individual
1. Teacher gives a question with multiple
2. T provides Think Time.
3. In pairs orally, A shares one response; B
Repeat rally until all responses given.
1. Teacher gives a question with multiple
2. T provides Think Time.
3. In pairs, A shares one response while B
writes it. (one sheet of paper)
Exchange. B shares a response while A writes.
Give One, Get One
1. Students receive a pre-made form or make
one. (two columns-Give One/Get One)
2. T provides Brainstorming time.
3. When they agree they have a good Give
One item, they all write it in the first
4. When their Give One column is full (or
predetermined number), they stand.
5. When all students are standing, each
person finds a partner from another team,
shares a Give One, writes a Get One. Find
6. Team members rejoin each other when
certain number of new items are obtained
and review each other's list.
1. Teacher gives a question concerning recall
of information with many aspects.
2. Students RallyTable what they can
3. Pairs Compare lists and record new items.
4. Team Challenge: Teams recall ___ items
more not currently on either list.
Team - Pair - Solo
1. Teacher gives a worksheet to each team
2. Team leader #1 talks through first problem
as others do the problem.
3. Leader #2 talks through next problem.
Continue for each Team problem.
4. Teams splits to pairs. Pairs RallyRobin Pair
5. Members do Solo work for last problems.
Numbered Heads Together
1. Teacher gives a question to whole class.
2. Students put heads together… discuss until
3. Teacher selects a number at random.
4. Numbered students respond in a variety of
1. Teacher creates a Pairs Check worksheet.
2. Partner A works aloud Problem #1.
3. Partner B coaches and praises.
4. Partner B works aloud #2.
5. Partner A coaches; praises.
6. Pairs Check with other pair.
7. Team celebrates and continues.
1. Teacher creates matching cards with
2. Each student starts with one card; mixes
around room, exchanging cards with each
3. Teacher calls Stop & Match.
4. Students find matching partner and form
circle around room.
5. Teacher quickly checks samples and has
students repeat process.
1. Students Think: What is the important
2. Students share ideas with partner.
3. Students write individual statement.
4. Students RoundRobin read; clarify; discuss.
5. Students synthesize team ideas into a new
1. Teams work on a Team Project.
2. Projects are posted or displayed around the
3. Same number groups are formed by team
4. Each same number group rotates around to
5. When the group arrives at a member's
project, that member presents the project,
discusses critical understandings and
insights, and responds to questions.
6. The group then rotates to the next project.
Read in bit-sized chunks (approx. 10 lines)
Turn to your partner and ask, "Is there anything
here we can use?"
Summarize, clarify and elaborate for each other
Write down key points you can use
Continue through section
Final step: Decide on the _(#)_ points which
are the most important in the section
Strategies for Sound Discipline
A Prerequisite for Student Learning
Every educator knows that sound discipline is a prerequisite
for student learning. The most critical factor to learning is on-
task instructional time. The more time students are focused
on learning, the more they accomplish. And one of the main
factors for on-task time is good discipline. In fact, the word
discipline is derived from the Latin word disciplina which
Unfortunately, many teachers inadvertently use inappropriate
discipline techniques. Their intentions are good, but their
results are poor because of a lack of "discipline basics". Even
teachers with good learning environments sometimes slip into
poor discipline habits that detract from instruction. Let's
examine the basics of good classroom discipline and common
errors to avoid.
Public Rules, Private Discipline
Rules should be publicized to all students; discipline is usually
more effective if it is privately administered. Teachers lose
their power (options) when they use public discipline
interventions unnecessarily. Realistically, teachers cannot
always be private with discipline. However, the more private
the teacher is, the more power she retains in most situations.
Example: A teacher finished handout out an activity sheet. A
few minutes later she noticed that Marc had not begun
working. In a loud accusative voice she admonished him for
wasting his time. Inadvertently, the teacher disrupted the
entire class, which now focused its attention on the exchange
between the teacher and Marc instead of the activity sheet.
The problem then escalated into a power struggle.
It would have been more effective if the teacher had used a
private, low profile intervention. For example, she could have
walked over to the student and reminded him it was time to
start or she could have softly said, "I see you haven't started
yet. Let's do the first one together", or she could have
reminded him that he had a choice to complete his work now
or to complete it later during recess time (or whatever
contingency she used for task completion), or she could have
ignored completely and done nothing.
By making a public power struggle, the teacher had backed
herself into a lose-lose situation. Low profile private
interventions leave more options to the teacher without
distracting others from their learning.
Emphasize the Rule, Not the Problem
You want students to focus on the desired behavior and not
the problem behaviors. The best way to direct students is to
state the rule to observe. For example, to a group of students
calling out, you could incorrectly respond, "I'm talking to
Tisha. There are a lot of Tisha's in here. I can't hear what
Jeremy is trying to tell me because of all you other Tishas." A
better teacher response is, "We have a rule to raise your
hand to receive permission to speak. Thank you for
Avoid Discipline by Voice
Teacher voice is the most commonly used discipline tool in
mismanaged classrooms. Such classrooms are characterized
by frequent directives and public verbal admonitions instead
of quiet, private interventions. Like listening to a noisy gong,
students become conditioned not to respond. In turn, the
teacher uses more verbal correction and directives and
usually becomes louder, furthering the problem.
Consequences are more effective than words. To play on the
words of a familiar saying, it is better to "talk softly and carry
a big stick." Overusing voice minimizes the power of verbal
cues. Also, misusing voice diminishes effect. It is critical to
avoid sarcasm. Be aware of your tone. Corrections need to be
given calmly and matter-of-factly.
Positive is Better than Negative
The more positive a teacher is with his management system,
the more power (options) he has. Research shows that
effective teacher's use about four times as many positive
consequences as negative ones (80 percent positive to 20
percent negative). Positive consequences result in higher
effort and pride, better teacher-student relationships, better
student-student relationships, and, in time, more self-control.
Overly using negative conseque3nces can increase student
resentment and lead to high levels of passive-aggressive
student behavior. Excessive negative consequences result in
teacher-controlled behavior rather than developing student-
controlled behavior. Students behave as long as they think
they will get "caught" by the teacher.
Administer Negative Consequences When Appropriate
Appropriate use of negative consequences (consequence
management) is one of the most critically important skills in
establishing and maintaining a well-disciplined but positive
classroom. Students learn that their behavior has
consequences and that inappropriate behavior results in
negative consequences. Teachers should have a continuum of
mild to more severe negative conseque3nces at their
disposal. Otherwise, teachers replace consequences with
verbal discipline, resulting in discipline with emotion rather
than with reason.
One of the harsh realities of negative consequences is that
they will never by totally effective with all students in all
situations. Instead of despairing over this fact and using it as
a reason not to follow through, teachers have to "discipline
themselves" to follow through. What a teacher dies in
discipline is more important than how she feels at the time.
Stated differently, the teacher's commitment to established
procedures should take precedence over mood at the
Target Specific Behaviors
If you focus on it, you can usually fix it. One of the least
appreciated techniques for improving behavior is being
selective, i.e. emphasizing improvement in one or two
particular behaviors instead of being general. Teachers who
are too general or who try to correct too many behaviors are
less likely to be effective. They also are less likely to notice
small increments of success when they do occur. The result is
that they usually pay more attention to students' negative
behaviors and in turn, the student's' behaviors typically get
worse over time.
Moving about the room is one of the best preventive tools at
your disposal. Advantages include great use of proximity,
earlier detection of problems, and great use of low-profile
interventions. The results are that some problems are
prevented and others are deescalated.
One Size Doesn't Fit all
It is a mistake to think that all students must be treated the
same. Students come to school with varying degrees of self-
control. Some need more help than others for improvement.
Give yourself permission to use different consequences with
different students. Consistency with individual students is
more important than always following the same consequence
with every student in the class all the time. Some teachers
worry that students will complain, but actually most students
will not complain once the teacher explains that some
students require different consequences.
Vary Your Reinforcers
Occasionally vary your reinforcers to maintain interest and
motivation. No matter how good your reinforcement system,
a lack of variety usually results in diminishing returns.
Depending on the age of your students, reinforcers need to
be varied ever6y two to four months. To develop ideas,
consider devoting twenty minutes of a faculty meeting
brainstorming reinforcers that might be especially useful with
the students in your school. Divide the faculty into small
groups to generate as many possibilities as they can.
Afterwards, share the results, eliminate duplicates, and
disseminate the list for the staff.
Also, give reinforcement choices when possible, such as
choosing a good news note, free homework pass, or bonus
free time. Choices increase the value of the rewards to
students because they can select what benefits them most.
Discipline is much more than administration of punishment. It
is a total system to develop a well-ordered environment for
instruction. Make sure you are practicing sound discipline
strategies and be on guard for slipping into poor habits. At
stake is your effectiveness as a teacher.